Pastor Shane Idleman made a humble plea for balance in the church regarding the work of the Holy Spirit in a recent sermon after attending John MacArthur's Strange Fire Conference in California last week. While Idleman certainly respects and agrees with MacArthur and other prominent attendees such as Dr. R. C. Sproul on several matters of theology, he wishes that conference speakers would have painted a more accurate picture of the charismatic movement. He contends that many Pentecostal believers have biblically-sound theology and do not partake in what he calls the hyper-charismatic "circus."
"I left [the conference] very disheartened," said Idleman, Christian author and pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in California - "they were using very strong words at this conference .... If you're charismatic or believe in the power of the Spirit - the Spirit-filled life - that you're somehow being influenced by demonic influences, you're open for too much deception."
Idleman maintains that such "scathing words" should have been reserved for the hyper-Pentecostals whose bizarre behavior and theology discredits them - some of whom bark like a dog or hold "healing services" as if they could control when God will grant healing to a person - and not for doctrinally-sound Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit's gifts are still active today.
MacArthur did acknowledge that there are faithful, traditional Pentecostals in one of his promotional videos for the conference and challenged such believers to expose the false doctrine of hyper-charismatics. The renowned Christian author of the MacArthur Study Bible and other Biblical commentary is a cessationist. He believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased and are not present in the modern-day church, which Idleman disagrees with wholeheartedly. Idleman cited the very Scripture that many cessationists use to uphold their theology to support his beliefs -
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (English Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12).
While cessationists argue that the "perfect" mentioned in verse ten has already come (a.k.a. the Bible), reading further in the passage reveals that Paul considers the "perfect" to have come when believers know all things fully - in other words, upon our glorification.
"I read the MacArthur Study Bible, not the Benny Hinn Study Bible ... I love John Piper, not Creflo Dollar," said Idleman in defense of conservative Pentecostals - "we love sound doctrine, we teach sound doctrine, we preach sound doctrine. We live by sound doctrine."
The Strange Fire Conference speakers argued that the gifts of the Spirit are not for today, that the charismatic movement is not producing godly fruit, and that its followers are enveloped in sheer emotionalism. Idleman, however, believes that passages like Mark 16:14-18 indicate that the gifts will accompany Christians for generations to come - he asks, "If it was Biblical and encouraged in the New Testament ... why is it of the devil today?" He also shared a little bit of his testimony, and rejoiced over the fruit that the Spirit is producing in his own life. Emotions, he says, are God-given and should be a response based on truth - they should not, however, be a gauge for truth.
Idleman agrees with MacArthur that satan has perverted much teaching about these gifts in charismatic churches, just as the enemy tries to take God's good gifts of food and sex and sinfully distort them into gluttony and fornication. He also rebuked prosperity gospel preachers who exploit their church members, twisting Scriptures about the Holy Spirit and other teachings for financial gain. Idleman encouraged his congregation to use much discernment when receiving a prophetic word from someone who claims to have this gift, testing everything by the Word of God and weighing Scripture more heavily than experience or feelings.
We don't want [to be] the circus or the cemetery," said Idleman in closing, referring to those who hold either hyper-charismatic or cessationist views. He warned his congregation that the perverted imitation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can truly be "false emotionalism if it's not conforming us to the image of Christ in our character." He challenged them to inspect whether they are growing in the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), which should be a given if they are truly operating in the gifts of the Spirit.